Dianne Feinstein, still recovering, is skipping a California visit during Senate break

Dianne Feinstein, in a wheelchair flanked by staff, shields her eyes from the sun as a man takes her hand and talks with her.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and staff leave a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on May 11 after her return to Washington.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is recovering from a serious shingles infection, is spending the Senate’s two-week Fourth of July recess in Washington.

Senators and House members usually use recesses to return to their home states and connect with their constituents. But the California Democrat has no plans to make a trip home to San Francisco, her spokesperson Adam Russell told The Times.

Feinstein turned 90 last week, and for months now the media have been scrutinizing her age, well-being and ability to carry out the duties of representing 39 million people.


The senator’s office did not say whether her decision to stay put was made on the advice of a doctor, but Ron Eckstein, her press secretary, said that she would remain in Washington “while she continues to recover.”

As recently as April 2022, one of Feinstein’s most important Democratic allies was pointing to her travel schedule as proof that she was fit to serve.

“She is constantly traveling between California and the Capitol, working relentlessly to ensure Californians’ needs are met and voices are heard,” San Francisco’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was House speaker at the time, said in a statement.

Feinstein now heads into the holiday break with a growing reputation as a distant coworker. Many California lawmakers no longer expect to communicate with her, CNN reported last week.

The senator, asked about CNN’s report, took issue with the idea that she no longer speaks with other members of her state’s delegation.

“I don’t know the issue,” Feinstein told The Times in a brief interview on Capitol Hill last week. “I don’t think that’s true. I have conversations with all of them that I come in contact with. ... I have not turned down anyone for a visit.”


She characterized the report as unfair, asserting that colleagues weren’t initiating conversations with her.

“I have not received a single request,” she said. “If I receive a request [to talk], I will. I have not received a single request.”

Feinstein was diagnosed with shingles in late February and was hospitalized until March 6. As of her return to Congress last month, she was experiencing “temporary side effects” from the virus that warranted “a lighter schedule,” her office said.

Californians’ approval of Feinstein’s job performance has fallen precipitously as state and national media outlets have paid more attention to her age and health problems.

Many longtime supporters still stand behind Feinstein, saying that increased scrutiny of her health and calls for her to vacate her seat are insensitive, disrespectful and sexist.

But the percentage of Californians who approve of how the senator is handling her job fell from 41% to 31% over the last eight months, according to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. Before this month, Feinstein’s rating in the institute’s surveys had never dropped below 40%.


But during Feinstein’s career in the Senate, many of her constituents have reported uncertain feelings about her. At one point, more than 1 in 4 Californians said they did not know whether they approved of her, according to Public Policy Institute surveys. But that unsure group is disappearing. Just 4% of Californians now say they “don’t know” whether they approve of Feinstein’s work.

Feinstein’s approval rating may rebound now that she has returned to Washington. The senator’s hospitalization and months-long absence from Capitol Hill prompted criticism from fellow Democrats after she missed important votes.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein has an important role in confirming the president’s judicial nominees. Since her return, she has been present for most votes, and aides have reported that she is returning to her normal workload.

The senator still has a close ally in Pelosi. The former House speaker continues to speak highly of Feinstein’s career, and Pelosi’s daughter Nancy Corinne Prowda helped Feinstein with day-to-day work on Capitol Hill after the senator returned to Washington. Pelosi’s office did not address a question about Prowda’s current involvement in Feinstein’s daily life.

“Senator Feinstein has achieved major accomplishments in her legendary career — and she is back to work in the Capitol, determined to do even more,” Pelosi said in a statement to The Times. “California is well-served by the commitment, experience and seniority that Senator Feinstein brings, including her leadership on the Appropriations Committee and for gun violence prevention.”

Candidates seeking Feinstein’s Senate seat in the 2024 election have also stopped short of criticizing her openly.


“I don’t think there was a lot of House-Senate collaboration in the California delegation, period,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) told CNN. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) reminded the network’s reporter that “there’s the human side of it,” and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) emphasized that his “office works with her constantly.”

Feinstein could shake up the race to replace her if she changes her retirement plans and steps down before her term ends in January 2025. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom would fill the vacancy, and he has said he would choose a Black woman for the position.

Lee is the only major Democratic candidate who would fit that description.

Times staff writer Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report from Los Angeles.